The Eagles went into the 2010 season with a defensive end that demands double teaming, two physically imposing defensive tackles, and a first round draft pick defensive end whom all the experts were touting as a possible candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Sounds great, right?
If only the game played out on paper.
The 2010 season started off very strong for the defensive line but they ended the season with an inaudible whimper.
Defensive End – That guy who I previously mentioned as being someone teams needed to double team was Trent Cole. Cole, yet again, lead the team in sacks, with 10. That’s not a bad number by any means. However, over the course of the last eight weeks of the season he recorded a measly two sacks. That is awful. Much of that is due to the fact that he is consistently getting double teamed.
The starter opposite of Cole at the beginning of the season was rookie Brandon Graham. For reasons I’m not quite sure of, people are very down on Graham after his rookie campaign which was cut short by an ACL tear. Graham put together three sacks and two forced fumbles before the injury. Understand that for a rookie defensive end, those numbers are very good. What the numbers don’t tell is how often he was getting in the backfield. Graham was consistently pressuring quarterbacks and that forced them into some poor throws that resulted in interceptions. It’s no coincidence that after Graham got hurt the pressure, sacks, and interceptions were down.
Juqua Parker is a valuable asset to this team. He can provide solid tackling in run support and can get after the quarterback if he’s used right. There’s the trick. He has to be used right. Parker is by no means a three-down end. He must be used sparingly in games. Unfortunately, injuries forced the Eagles’ hand and Parker again had to return as a starter. As was the usual, he started off the season very hot and tapered off by midseason.
Behind those three were Darryl Tapp and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Tapp showed some solid flashes at times and forced a few key sacks in certain games. Te’o-Nesheim, the third round draft pick out of Washington, was nothing short of a disappointment this season. He rarely reached the field as it was and when he did he got pushed around like a rag doll. I’m never going to write someone off after one year but he certainly looked nothing short of lost out on the field.
Defensive Tackle – In 2004 the Eagles drafted Mike Patterson. In 2005 they drafted Brodrick Bunkley. Both were supposed to anchor this defensive line for years. One, Patterson, has been a good player in his time here. He has consistently been one of the team’s best run stuffers and can collapse the pocket at times. In 2010 Patterson had 37 tackles and two sacks, numbers which are generally pretty good for a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme.
The other, Bunkley, has been a disappointed and the 2010 season was no exception. He gets shoved around and rarely finds himself in the backfield. Bunkley only started five games and much of that was due to an elbow hyperextension that he suffered during the game against the 49ers in Week 5. In clean up duty, he was fine and made some plays in run support. However, he’s yet to show the pass rush ability that he showed off at Florida State.
In his place was Antonio Dixon, one of the bright spots of the defensive front last season. The second year man out of Miami started every game after Bunkley got injured, except for the season finale against the Cowboys. Over the course of those 10 starts he amassed 29 tackles and two sacks. What the numbers don’t show is how pivotal he was in collapsing the pocket. He did what Bunkley never could which was take pressure off of Patterson and make plays in the backfield. While his play, along with the rest of the defensive line, faded towards the end of the season, he still provided one of the few sparks on the defense in 2010.
Trevor Laws, the fourth defensive tackle, has never lived up to his second round pick status. However, in his third season, he put together some quality stuff. After a ridiculously impressive training camp he was able to help the Eagles by sacking opposing quarterbacks four times in reserve duty. To put that into perspective, the rest of the Eagles defensive tackles had a combined total of four sacks. Laws, while not a starter, certainly has a place on this roster.
The Eagles have already begun making moves to improve a unit that has tons of potential, but has yet to show it on the field. The biggest move of the offseason so far has been the firing of defensive line coach Rory Segrest (someone I was never fond of) and the hiring of Jim Washburn. Washburn had been the defensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans since 1999 and is widely regarded as one of, if not the, best defensive line coaches in the league.
The hiring of Washburn could lead to some very interesting free agent or trade acquisitions. Free agent to be Jason Babin, a former Eagle, credits his growth into a Pro Bowl defensive end to Washburn. Even more intriguing is the possibility of the Eagles getting defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Washburn was his coach when he was an unstoppable force in Tennessee and Haynesworth has openly stated that he’d take less money to play for Washburn and the Eagles.
I don’t see the Eagles going after any defensive linemen early in the 2011 draft because they have so many needs. However, after watching the Senior Bowl, Phil Taylor from Baylor is a guy to keep an eye on.
Transactions aside, the biggest thing that the defensive line needs is a healthy Brandon Graham. As he goes, so will the defensive line in 2011.